Kieran West & His Buffalo Band
Kieran and Dave and Corey (the guys with strings) recently came back from tour with other bands they’re in. I was stoked to see them set to play the Park Theatre — it’s a real nice venue. A real theatre, even. Great lighting, tons of floor space and ample seating, too.
Kieran West & His Buff Band are probably the only country band that I actively choose to listen to. They play a nice blend of country, blues and a touch of rock. But it sounds like they’ve gone through some transformations in the past couple years.
They released their first EP, Riverwood Avenue, two years ago. It features violin, easygoing, meandering melodies and soft feminine backup vocals. This concert deviated a bit. There was no violin. They stripped the sound down to your classic rhythm guitar, lead guitar, bass and drums combo. Which is a healthy challenge, I think. When you’re working within the boundaries of a longstanding genre, and a typical ensemble, it can be easy to slip into a generic sound. They’re in the process of releasing a new album, expceted soon I hope?
But these guys avoided that. I think it’s thanks to good songwriting and some wicked soloing. I’d seen them play at Harvest Moon. They grabbed me then. Their guitar tone features a bit more guts than what I expect from country tunes. And Kieran sings about some pretty relatable experiences.
There’s one song I heard at Harvest Moon that I came to the Park wanting to hear. I learned (from a piece of cardboard on the floor) that it’s called “Bug”. It’s about the little thing in the back of your mind that can’t be fixed, that leads to tequila and whiskey and trying a bunch of healthy ways of coping that just don’t quite do the trick like hard liquor can. Maybe it’s not the best that this song spoke to me so clearly, but at the same time maybe it’s okay, because I’m not the only one I know who works this way. And hearing some country dudes sing about it with blues overtones makes me feel alright. Like it’s commonplace to struggle, to seek something else and come back to the old, comfortable habits. Like maybe I should get a drink with the band after.
Throughout the whole concert I got thinkin’ on this idea of storytelling. How Bug, and other songs by the Buff Band, and the Perps too, resonate so strongly because they tell a snippet of a story that feels like it could come out of my life.
If you’re at a concert at the Park, you can sort of guess that you’re seeing some real musicians. It’s a big venue. Ambitious. When the Buff Band started playing, the floor was a little empty (save for one diehard — kudos to you man. The hug before they started playing really brought that friendly mood in) but as they went along, it filled up. Most of the crowd was an older group at this show, probably mostly Perp fans. But they got into the Buff Band, too.
Song composition was fairly standard. You know the drill — intro, chorus, verse, chorus, bridge, something like that. But the little things fill it in. Little notes, here and there. A blend of light twang in the lead guitar, and gritty riff in the rhythm. And having a tight rhythm section to keep it all together, to draw out the builds and create a sense of overall direction.
I have to say, my favourite parts were where Dave let loose. Dave can really get into it when he has a chance to solo. It’s like the rest of the band takes a small step back and gives him some room to breathe, and that good ol’ guitarist ego comes out to shine. And it’s great, it’s great in this space because the rest of the song is so structured. The only competition for delightful unfettered passion is Kieran’s voice. And when there’s a guitar solo, that means no singing. So yeah, go Dave. Play that fuckin’ guitar.
Full disclosure: I am a diehard blues fan. I’ve been listening to Robert Johnson and Buddy Guy and B.B. King and SRV and Clapton and Muddy Waters and so on since like, birth. (thanks Dad!) So seeing the Perps, some down-home classic blues, is always a treat.
Blues is both simple and a challenge. You have a set scale to write and play in. You’ve got this legacy of incredible artists before you, many writing about serious life struggles. Things that white guys (Clapton?) probably can’t relate to. But when you’ve got the heart, the crook’d heart of a blues musician, there’s nothing like pouring your soul out through those simple scales. And that’s where the talent and skill comes through. When you can make something brand new in a genre as old as dirt, you’re doing it right for sure.
That’s what the Perps do. They’ve got such a classic tone, that dirty guitar like broken teeth and coffee grinds, and down-low bass that fills it out. They’re writing new songs, like Smokes and Chicken, that tell stories of living in Winnipeg and dealing with whatever bullshit comes up. Back to the storytelling theme, which is part of blues and just music in general, they’ve got that down. They’ll tell you a story about walking out a 7-11 and down Furby St. and nearly getting robbed (but no money to give, ’cause they spent it on smokes and chicken.).
They have a remarkably full sound for a three piece band. Maybe it comes from years of performing together. Maybe it comes from the size of personality they’re born with. Either way, they filled the Park. Not only did they fill the room with sound, energetic and gnarly sound, but also with people. Most of whom were my dad’s age? Which is rad. They played to a loving crowd, people dancing and singing along. People soaking up each note.
They’ve got the up and down groove, with the heavy downbeats and smooth guitar overtop. It’s classic blues, I swear, but new and fresh. Rejuvinating. It reminds me of when I was 16 and I seriously wanted all those old bands to come alive again, or when I constantly dissed new music because it wasn’t like old music. These guys are like old music, but they’re new, and they bring that new life to it. They bring an energy I can connect with seeing them play live. I’ve seen them at least once before, and damn, I’ve never seen such a broad audience get so in touch with a single performance.
Again, these guys are playing in a longstanding musical tradition, with fairly structured songs and a preset scale. And they really carry it away in the solos. They really bleed out through those moments of intensity. The bassline walks, and the guitar trots all around it, picking up speed, slowing down and getting quiet, bringing an emotional intimacy into the heavy-hitting gritty sounds.
Musicianship. Seriously. Real bloody musicianship.